Beyond the Noise: Equity-minded Learning Analytics

by: Kristen Fox | Blog |Sep 9th, 2020

As we begin a fall term unlike any before (and hopefully unlike any again) we wish you a safe and smooth start to the academic year. If we can be helpful in any way, please do not hesitate to reach out. 

This month, we are focusing our newsletter on equity in higher education. The combination of a global pandemic, economic recession, and racial injustice has heightened the focus on pre-existing equity and access challenges facing the U.S. and our higher education system. Americans of Color and lower-income Americans are disproportionately suffering negative health, economic, and educational impacts from the confluence of these events. As a result, there is urgency to treat this moment as a turning point to accelerate changes to policy, practice and pedagogy. 

As a tool to help institutions, we are releasing a new set of resources, the Learning Analytics and Equity Toolkit, which includes a set of Guiding Principles and Strategies for Learning Analytics Implementation. We authored this applied resource in partnership with Every Learner Everywhere to help institutions and their partners implement learning analytics with the goal of reducing equity gaps for minoritized populations.

As always, please contact us with questions or comments.

Best wishes,

Gates Bryant

Trace Urdan

Kristen Fox

COVID-19 has Exacerbated Inequity in Higher Education

Overall degree attainment rates indicate that even prior to COVID-19, there were significant equity gaps in higher education. Only 24% of Black Americans and 32% of Latinx Americans have an associate degree or higher compared to 48% of White Americans and 64% of Asian Americans.  There is also clear evidence that institutions broadly have not been effectively closing these gaps. For those students of color who do enroll in higher education, they are stopping out and not completing their degrees at higher rates as shown below.

The pandemic has exacerbated these inequities and created more challenges for these student groups. As of June, Latinx and Black Americans were twice as likely to report that they had changed or cancelled their education plans as a result of the pandemic. Students at lower income levels had less reliable internet and device access and faculty reported significant concerns about student equity during the spring transition to remote learning. The just-released September National Student Clearinghouse summer enrollment report indicates that students at community colleges and Black students overall were among those who experienced the largest enrollment declines of 2020.

Taken in combination, these factors point to an urgent need for broad action. One known barrier to progression and completion are high-enrollment general education courses. These courses, which include Introductory level STEM, Math, and English courses for example, are gateways to degree paths but are often “gatekeepers.” High failure rates in these gateway courses lead to significant dropout rates between the first and second year and at disproportionately high rates for low-income students and students of color.

The Potential of Learning Analytics to Close Equity Gaps

The data generated by digital learning tools has the potential to support personalized learning and help close equity gaps in courses, and in particular on high-enrollment general education courses. However, many colleges and universities are not yet realizing the full potential of learning analytics. In response, our Learning Analytics Strategy and Equity Toolkit, released in partnership with Every Learner Everywhere, outlines guiding principles and strategies for institutions seeking to develop a learning analytics approach that closes equity gaps. The principles and strategies provide an evidence-based framework for a scalable, equity-focused learning analytics adoption.

There are four guiding principles and associated strategies that can be implemented to create a robust learning analytics program focused on equity.

1. Explicitly set goals to achieve equity across student groups 

To reduce gaps in learning outcomes across student groups, it is important to establish and communicate goals across the institution. It’s not just about advancing outcomes for all students, but it’s about ensuring that learning outcomes are being achieved within and across sub-populations of students.

2. Ensure inclusion and support for faculty, administrators and students

Faculty, students, and administrators need ongoing support and the inclusion of diverse perspectives to interpret and act on data. This includes professional development, data privacy policies, and devising research-based learning interventions in response to the data. Today, only five percent of faculty and seven percent of administrators report robust training opportunities about learning analytics at their institutions.

3. Establish policies that address data ethics and privacy

Faculty report that a lack of familiarity and comfort with policies on key ethical issues such as consent, privacy, transparency, and responsible use of data inhibits the adoption of learning analytics. Faculty are hesitant to act on the data to which they have access if they feel uncertain about these policies.

4. Improve appropriate access to student data

Users today are leveraging data from a wide variety of systems, creating complexity in their ability to use data. That complexity means that access to data is one of the top three barriers to using learning analytics data reported by faculty and administrators.

Want to learn more about how to implement data-driven approaches to improve student outcomes and discuss your institutions strategy? Contact us.

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